Open air swimming pool FLOW

The temporary outdoor swimming pool FLOW is a 1:1 scale model. Serving both as an example and a provocation, it highlights Brussels’ lack of structural open-air swimming spots. Thus, the pool aims to convince authorities to invest in permanent projects while already offering a real, albeit small, safe and inclusive place to cool down in summer.

POOL IS COOL is a bottom-up organisation that has been advocating for the reintroduction of outdoor swimming in Brussels since 2015. In 2021, with the support of local organizations and authorities, they created the first public outdoor swimming pool in Brussels in more than 40 years. FLOW was designed and built by Decoratelier Jozef Wouters on a derelict site next to the Brussels canal, with the adjoining traffic-free bridge serving as an access point. It is located in a neighborhood which is transforming from a former industrial zone to a mixed residential and commercial zone characterized by great diversity. Informed by Jozef Wouters’ practice as a scenographer, FLOW uses scenography as a tool and a language to start a concrete conversation between different stakeholders – beginning with local communities – about the various desires and needs at play in public infrastructure.

FLOW is a process; the building is the result. The pool is an attraction for the whole Brussels region, yet a key objective was to anchor it in the fragile social context of Anderlecht. Decoratelier, located close to the pool, approached the construction as a participatory project, providing education and temporary work to over 50 short-schooled local youth in a neighborhood where unemployment is a real issue. While building the parts, the participants contributed not only their hands, but also their voices during discussions and panels about privatisation and access to public space. Afterwards, the continued employment of local youth in the daily management of the pool has helped to create a sense of shared ownership, as have accessible programs by local cultural organisations and family-oriented activities such as swimming classes. The building materials were consciously chosen to allow for adaptations and transformation through the years. This includes the addition of new elements such as a staff kitchen and a kiosk. In this sense, the pool is like a blueprint that keeps on changing through a process of continuous research and feedback.

The pool’s compact shape, wrapped around a 17x7m basin, incorporates basic facilities such as changing rooms and showers. Characteristic for the design are the multi-tiered sun decks that surround the pool, where visitors can relax without disturbing the privacy of the swimmers. Decorative elements by local artists enhance the feeling of the space as a temporary phantasm, a dream made of water. While a biological water treatment was initially not possible for legislative reasons, POOL IS COOL achieved this goal in 2023 through the implementation of an ecological water purification system with plant filters.
Decoratelier developed a design that consists of repeated patterns of identical wooden pieces, made from reclaimed and sustainable wood, that are tailor-made to fit re-used metal racks. This choice was not driven by aesthetic motives, but by a desire to build together. The parts are assembled with techniques that can be easily passed on among inexperienced builders in a horizontal learning experience. This way of building also enables future adjustments, disassembly and reuse, supporting a sustainable vision.